Discord in Israel over orchestra's plans to play at Wagner festival

Proposed performance at Bayreuth has reopened old wounds

Nearly 130 years after his death, Richard Wagner still provokes a maelstrom of emotions. Katharina Wagner, the German composer's great-granddaughter, has pulled out of a trip to Israel where she was to announce that the Israel Chamber Orchestra would be invited to open the next season of the prestigious Bayreuth festival, the annual celebration of Wagner's music.

Ms Wagner cancelled the trip after the orchestra's participation was leaked to the Israeli media, prompting a hostile reaction in Israel. Wagner is widely shunned there for his anti-Semitic writings, which drew admiration from Adolf Hitler. Israeli orchestras have largely honoured a seven-decade boycott of Wagner's work, partly out of respect for Holocaust survivors, who claim Jews were sent to the gas chambers while Wagner was played in the background.

Ms Wagner's decision will not affect the ensemble's participation at Bayreuth next year, which will be the first time an Israeli orchestra has taken part in the month-long festival.

"The decision [to take part] was not to break a taboo," Erella Talmi, who chairs the Israeli orchestra's board of directors, told Israel Radio. "The decision was to accept an invitation that showed a new openness."

Intended as a gesture of reconciliation between the Wagner family and Israel, Ms Wagner's trip was planned in total secrecy. Only a few weeks before, Ms Wagner told Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper she had authorised a group of historians to investigate her family's links with the Nazi regime, including her great-grandfather's influence on Nazi thinking.

Nevertheless, the efforts at a rapprochement have reopened old wounds in Israel, where the composer is still widely reviled. "Our fear is that this will legitimise Wagner in Israel," said Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal centre, the world's biggest Nazi-hunting organisation. "Wagner cannot apologise. It's a closed book. There is no way of making up for his anti-Semitic writings."

The unofficial boycott of Wagner dates back to 1938, when the Palestine Orchestra, now known as the Israel Philharmonic, refused to perform his works in protest at the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Although Wagner died some 50 years before the Nazis gained power, his espousal of German superiority over the Jews influenced Nazi thinking, and Hitler adopted him as his favourite composer. In his book Jewishness in Music, Wagner claimed that Jews could only produce populist, money-making music, rather than real works of art. He also claimed Germans were repelled by contact with Jews, who dressed and acted strangely.

In recent years, some in Israel have tried to bring Wagner to a domestic audience, but those efforts have met with a stony reception. Daniel Barenboim, the Argentinian-born Israeli conductor, performed part of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde in 2001, but he was heckled and some of the audience walked out. The performance created such a stir in Israel that several lawmakers called for a boycott of the Jewish maestro. Only a year earlier, an Israeli orchestra had performed Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, under the baton of the Holocaust survivor Mendi Rodan.

Colette Avital, an Israeli former politician, believes it could be years before Wagner can comfortably be played in Israel. "As long as there are survivors of the Holocaust, their sensitivity has to be respected and nobody should hurt their feelings," she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas